Elevated prostaglandin E2 (PGE2) production is a common feature of human malignancies. This activity has often been attributed to increased metabolic activity of the cyclooxygenase enzymes, although a direct comparison of these 2 parameters i.e., prostaglandin production and cox protein expression, is rarely performed in the same malignant tissue. Using a murine model of metastatic breast cancer, we show that PGE2 levels are positively correlated with increased tumorigenic and metastatic potential. Because prostaglandin synthesis is a product of 2 isoforms of the cyclooxygenase enzyme, we examined the expression and activity of both isoforms. All tumor cell lines examined, regardless of phenotype, express both cox-1 and cox-2 proteins in vitro. In contrast to the uniform cox-2 expression in vitro, only tumors resulting from the transplantation of metastatic cell lines express cox-2 in vivo. Cox-1 is detected in both metastatic and nonmetastatic tumors. Thus, this is the first evidence that, in the tumor milieu, cox-2 expression can be regulated differently in metastatic vs. nonmetastatic lesions. Examination of PGE2 synthesis in vitro reveals that nearly complete inhibition of prostaglandin synthesis occurs in the presence of either indomethacin, which inhibits both isoforms, or NS398, which is selective for the cox-2 isoform. Thus, even though cell lines express both isoforms, the majority of the prostaglandin synthesis stems from the activity of the inducible, cox-2 isoform. Likewise, cell growth is inhibited by both indomethacin and NS398 in a dose-dependent manner, albeit at higher drug concentrations than required to ablate PGE2 synthesis. Despite the inhibition of prostaglandin synthesis, the cox-2 enzyme levels (protein and mRNA) were increased by either indomethacin or NS398. © 2001 Wiley-Liss, Inc.